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An Employer’s Guide to Fasting at Work: What to Expect and How to Support Employees

One way to increase employee morale is to get to know your team members so you can understand how their personal lives impact their workplace lives — and vice versa. This includes understanding how to support those who are fasting at work.

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What is fasting?

The term fasting means abstaining from a specific substance or action. Most often when people talk about fasting, they mean abstaining from certain foods, any food or even all food and drink for a specific period of time. 

People typically fast for health or medical reasons or as a religious observance. 

Common lengths for fasts include:

  • 12 to 16 hours for intermittent fasting or sunrise-to-sunset fasts
  • 24 hours for all-day fasts
  • 2-3 days, though these fasts typically do not require someone to abstain from water
  • 21 days or more for fasts that require abstaining from some, but not all, foods

Why might employees fast during working hours?

Because of the lengths of time most fasts require, people may need to engage in fasting at work. Reasons someone might abstain from food or drink while at work or doing work include:

  • Preparing for a medical procedure. Some medical procedures require people to stop eating or drinking before the procedure. In some cases, the individual might need to limit how much food they intake or cut out certain types of foods in the hours or days leading up to the procedure.
  • Fasting due to illness. Intermittent fasting can be a way to address symptoms associated with chronic conditions. If an employee is engaging in intermittent fasting, they may abstain from food or certain types of beverages for part or all of the workday.
  • Participating in religious observances. Many belief systems include calls to fasting. Going without food or beverages can be part of an individual’s spiritual discipline. During holidays or observance periods, fasting can be a corporate experience. Examples include Lent, which some Christian denominations observe; Ramadan, which many people of the Muslim faith observe; and Yom Kippur, which some people of the Jewish faith observe. 

How can fasting at work impact employers and teams?

Fasting at work can have an impact on your business and teams. Forgoing food and beverages for some time — especially all day — can be difficult. It might cause some individuals to be less energetic or quieter than normal. If you aren’t aware that team members might be fasting, you could mistakenly think you have a general employee morale issue.

However, according to information published by the Society of Occupational Medicine, periodic fasting at work doesn’t necessarily lead to adverse impacts on alertness or cognitive function needed to do the job. This is assuming the individual in question is relatively healthy, practices good sleep hygiene and eats and hydrates well outside of the fasting period. 

How can you support employees during fasts?

Providing support for fasting at work can help you create a culturally accepting workplace. That’s especially true when you’re aware of the belief systems your employees might have and how those beliefs impact fasting. Consider the below ways you can support fasting at work.

Offer flexible schedules

Flexible scheduling is a favorite perk among employees of all types, as it helps individuals establish a healthy work-life balance. That’s especially true during periods of fasting. 

Consider, for example, the type of fasting that takes place during Ramadan or Yom Kippur. Individuals participating in these observances abstain from any food or drink, including water, from sunrise to sunset. If they have the option for flexible scheduling, they might choose to start work earlier in the day—even shortly after sunrise, when they’re more energized and have recently eaten.

This shift in schedule may allow individuals to leave early and go home and rest if their energy wanes. It also allows them to prepare for any breaking of the fast, which might be done in a community, with family members or others.  

Be thoughtful with food offerings

If you plan to offer perks such as free food in recognition of a job well done, you might want to plan around major religious fast days. That way, you’re not inadvertently leaving certain people out of the celebration.

When there isn’t an option to schedule luncheons or other events around known fast days, consider ways you can honor individual commitments to fasting without leaving anyone out. You might offer options for taking part in food celebrations after sundown, for example, or invite individuals who are fasting to make to-go plates they can enjoy later. 

Provide food-free break locations

Consider offering locations at your workplace where people can relax without the sights and smells of food. This can be a good idea even outside of fasting days, as some individuals may find it easier to relax in such environments. You could cultivate a quiet room where people can sit and read or provide seating outside where employees can enjoy the outdoors during pleasant weather. 

Allow people to take time off

While you should always follow time-off approval policies consistently across your organization, consider allowing people to use their PTO days if desired to take time off during major fasting times. In religious contexts, fasting days are often tied to celebrations or times of worship. Individuals may want to take time off to plan, implement or participate in these celebrations.  

Related: What Is a Floating Holiday?

Provide accommodations when possible

Treat requests for accommodations with thoughtfulness and empathy. Reach out to your human resources team for guidance when you are uncertain how to respond to a request. It’s important that you avoid asking people if they are fasting but rather create a safe space for them to share and raise concerns.

FAQs about fasting at work

Can people have some food or drink when fasting?

The rules of fasting vary depending on the reason for the fast. For example, intermittent fasting, which is concerned with limited food intake during certain periods of the day, allows for drinking water and some beverages such as plain coffee or tea. Religious fasting can include fast days or periods that don’t allow any food or drink, though there are also religious fasting observances that allow some food or drink. 

What types of fasting require no food or drink at all?

In some cases, medical providers ask patients to abstain from any food or drink for a certain period before a procedure. This is typically a safety precaution.

Some religious fasts require individuals to abstain from food and drink. Ramadan and Yom Kippur are two examples. 

When are some religious holidays that call for fasting?

Fasting practices occur across major world religions. Examples include:

  • Lent, when some Christian denominations limit food intake on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from eating meat on certain days
  • Ramadan, when Muslim individuals abstain from food or drink from sunrise to sunset
  • Yom Kippur, when Jewish participants abstain from food or drink from sunrise to sunset

Other religions that include fasting observances are Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i and Taoism. 

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